-Reviewed by Rory O’Sullivan-
If short stories about East End cannibalism, council estate dawn raids, petty murder or smack-happy voyeurs busting a paedophile ring aren’t currently on your ‘to-read’ list, then prepare to take a literary smack in the chops like never before.
This is because the wonderful, if slightly crazy, people at Byker Books have just published their sixth Radgepacket volume of Tales from the Inner Cities – and they’ll make sure you pick up a copy by whatever means necessary.
It is a compendium of good ol’ British grassroots literature that – by the end – will ensure you know your Sky Rocket from your Loaf of Bread, how best to retrieve the wallet you carelessly left behind after sleeping with the fiancée of a well-known mobster, and the most sensible means of exacting revenge upon a ganglord who likes to fiddle young men.
It features a total of 23 pint-sized tales of underworld despair, torment and anguish – pinning you up in a darkened alleyway as you embark on one story, as the one just gone quietly picks your pocket.
Fans of the poetry that the Arctic Monkeys unearthed in tower-block, bus-stop Britain will like this.
But despite the tragedy (and, my word, there is tragedy) comedy and hope remain important themes.
Examples include a poignant fable about a local darts champion’s struggle to come to terms with the grave his middle-age lifestyle is digging for him, in ‘The Greatest Sportsman in the World’. The likeable Trev knocks back between fifteen and twenty pints a day – his mammoth ale sessions punctuated by success on the oche and daily trips to the kebab shop. Doom drags us down as his overweight, wheezy and drunken presence gets the better of his wife as well as us. It is nice of author Danny Hill to offer us solace within an otherwise desperate story as his health takes a turn for the best (sinking just the ten pints now and again) – his changes in fortune neatly underlined by the narrative of two darts commentators egging him on.
Sally Spedding is less forgiving, though. In ‘Tea for Two’, she offers us a revenge tale that will have you struggling to keep down your greasy spoon breakfast.
The subjects of resentment for one’s life (or lack of) and rampant alcoholism are dealt with sternly in Ian Ayris’s ‘Shadows in the Rain’. The extent to which it affects character Len paralyses his ability to display any rational temperament towards the people around him, and had me drawing immediate parallels with Emile Zola’s L’assommoir (The Drinking Den).
There are just the two burial scenes over the 23 stories. One comes unexpectedly in ‘All you Fascists bound to lose’, by Nick Quantrill, in a rather comic twist as two friends chat and smoke over a tinny having put their acquaintance six feet under, while the second is less welcome. Hippies – or friends of hippies – must avoid reading Charlie Wade’s ‘Environmentally Sound’ if you’re in a particularly earth-loving mood.
So do it. Grab an overly-salted bag of chips, crack open a can of Special Brew and allow your baser instincts to ride this gritty and hilarious rollercoaster. And I promise I haven’t been held at gunpoint to say that.